Brownback: Kansas economy can sustain budget goals

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Gov. Sam Brownback said he was confident Friday that the Kansas economy would continue to strengthen and generate revenue to fund his budget proposals despite criticism from his top Democratic rival.

The Republican wants to increase spending during the current fiscal year in three areas: state pensions, public schools and the state’s share of Medicaid health care programs for the poor, elderly and disabled. Recent legislative budget projections suggest the plan would eat further into Kansas’ cash reserves.

But the governor said his optimism is supported by his administration’s experience in the past three years in setting priorities and building reserves.

“We have worked our way through these, and we’re going work our way through this one,” he said. “And we can. We’re going to be able to handle this or otherwise I wouldn’t propose it.”

Brownback pointed to the state’s 5.1 percent unemployment rate in November, the most recent figure available. He said there was evidence that construction and housing were on the rise in parts of Kansas, and signs of gains in rural areas. He said that data may have been understated when revenue forecasts were made in the fall.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who is running against Brownback in November, said revenue projections paint a different economic situation.

Gov. Brownback is working overtime to try and tie a bow around his failed policies, but the numbers just never seem to add up,” said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.

Budget projections calculated by the Legislature’s nonpartisan research staff had predicted, before Brownback’s new spending plan, that the state would eat into its cash reserves in the next few years because of recent income tax cuts and ongoing government expenses.

The figures suggest that the state will exhaust all surplus revenues available by fiscal year 2016, and Brownback and legislators will need to cut spending or reverse the tax cuts to balance the budget. And Brownback’s new plan, the analysts say, would cut in further.

Kansas ended fiscal year 2013 with $745 million in reserves on June 30. That surplus is equal to 12.2 percent of all general fund expenditures, which were nearly $6.1 billion in fiscal 2013.

The surplus figures are expected to decline to $326 million at the end of fiscal 2015, in part because of an anticipated $346 million to be spent to restore funding for the Department of Corrections that has been cut in recent years. And that amount doesn’t include the governor’s plan for $16 million next year for all-day kindergarten or restoration in cuts to salaries at state colleges and universities.

A special committee has been assembled to review the all-day kindergarten plan. The seven Republicans and two Democrats will make a recommendation to the House committees on education and appropriations later this session.

Brownback maintains the investment is necessary to help improve reading scores and move students out of a cycle of poverty.

“We can do this. I urge the Legislature to do this. It is a key, key piece,” Brownback said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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